Foreign workers should not arrive in the UK with the expectation that they or their families will be entitled to claim state benefits while they are in the country. However, this does not mean that foreign workers have no right to claim UK state benefits should they need them.
UK State Benefits and Workers from the “Old” EU Countries
Workers from the older EU countries and from the wider European Economic Area generally have the same rights and entitlements whilst in the UK as workers who are British citizens. They will usually be entitled to claim help with housing and other state benefits in the same way as a British citizen. Central tenets behind the creation of the EU were that there should be freedom of movement by EU citizens throughout the Eurozone and that citizens of EU countries should receive the same treatment in any EU country as the citizens of that country.
UK State Benefits and Workers from the Accession EU Countries
In 2004 10 new countries joined the EU. The Accession Treaty, under which the 10 states joined the EU, specifically provided that the existing members of the EU could impose restrictions on the rights of citizens from some of the new member states to live and work in other parts of the EU. The countries which joined in 2004 consisted of Central and Eastern European countries – Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary, as well as Malta and Cyprus. Existing members of the EU were permitted to place restrictions on citizens of all of the new members other than Malta and Cyprus. These Eastern and Central European states are sometimes referred to as the A8 countries.
The types of restrictions which could be imposed might include the rights of an individual to work in a member state or the rights of an individual to claim state benefits. Under these restrictions EU workers from the A8 countries must have been employed in the UK for 12 months before they are entitled to claim state benefits.
Restrictions could be imposed for up to seven years. However, the member state imposing the restriction would be required to provide justifications for maintaining the restrictions over a prolonged period. In November 2010 the European Commission criticised the UK for continuing to restrict the entitlement of workers from the A8 countries to claim state benefits in the UK.
UK State Benefits and Workers from Bulgaria and Romania
Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007. Again, existing members of the EU were permitted to impose restrictions on the rights of citizens from these new member states for up to seven years from when they joined the EU.
The UK generally imposed stricter conditions on the rights of citizens from Bulgaria and Romania to work in the UK than it did on citizens from the A8 countries which joined in 2004. However, the rules on the rights of workers from Romania and Bulgaria are similar. Generally workers from the two countries which joined the EU in 2007 will not be entitled to state benefits unless they have been working as an authorised employee in the UK for 12 months. There may be some entitlement to help with housing or paying the rent for workers from Bulgaria and Romania during their first 12 months of authorised employment.
UK State Benefits and Workers from Outside of the EU
The entitlement of workers from countries from outside of the EU or the EEA to claim state benefits in the UK may be determined by any conditions imposed when they first obtained leave to remain in the country. Some workers may have been told that they are not allowed any recourse to public funds whilst in the UK. This will generally mean that they are not entitled to state benefits. However, where a foreign worker has made National Insurance contributions whilst working this may give rise to an entitlement to some benefits which are based on these contributions – as opposed to the benefits which are means-tested.
Foreign workers from outside of the EU or EEA who were not told that they could have no recourse to public funds whilst in the UK may be entitled to claim some state benefits which are not based on National Insurance contributions. The entitlement of such workers may depend on whether or not it is reasonable for them to continue to live in the UK. In addition they will have to satisfy the same criteria that a UK citizen would have to satisfy in order to claim the particular benefit.